Posts

A Bit of Swing Dance History in a Beer Ad!

vintage swing dance

Still from the new Guinness ad

I’ve blogged in the past about my appreciation for dance in advertising, and now along comes one of the best yet.

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I confess I don’t really get what this has to do with Guinness, but more power to them. It’s pretty wonderful all on it’s own so I’m happy to spread it around.  The dancing is top notch, the message is timely, and the history is accurate.  If this kind of dancing excites you, and you live in the bay area, call Steps On Toes and learn how to do it.  The bay area hosts a vibrant Lindy scene. You can be part of it!

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Best floors for Lindy Hop Slides!

Harlem dancers

The most famous slide ever photographed, from Life Magazine in the 30s

Swing dancing has a wide range of styles because it’s a street dance, constantly changing with the creativity of the dancers.  Slides are tricky steps.  They’re not that common, due to the difficulty in executing them properly.  You’ll only see them performed by advanced dancers, and they’re always show stoppers.  If you’re a bay area dancer, you won’t see them at Lindy in the Park or at Local Edition.  If you want to try them out, you need a slick floor no matter how skilled you are.

The best dance floors for Swing have a polished surface with just enough slickness to slide but not so much as to be dangerous.  The best floors are also sprung so they have a little give to them.  Here in the bay area great floors are hard to find, but as long as the floor is not sticky (like the sidewalk at Lindy in the Park or the unfinished wood at local edition or any finish that feels sticky rather than smooth) any finished wood floor is fine.  You can also make adjustments to the floor by wearing shoes that have right amount of slickness for you, and using dance wax if you need a bit more slickness than the floor offers.

Sprung floors are designed for dancing , so they are few and far between, but while they are great for low impact, they are not necessary for slides.  The recently renovated Starline Social Club, which hosts the new Tuesday night swing event The Breakaway, has one of the best floors in the bay area as does the Lake Merritt Dance Center.  The Scottish Rite Temple, which hosts vintage dances every other month also has a spectacular floor.  The Terrace Room recently renovated it’s floor which gives it a boost in ratings from sticky to pretty good. These places are all in Oakland, and SF also has good floors in many of its venues.  The Russian Center, Verdi Club (which just had it’s last regular swing night), and practically any place besides LITP and Local Edition, that hosts a swing dance, has a floor you can slide on.

Don’t know what I’m talking about when I reference slides?  Here’s a great example in this recent clip from a swing camp in Spain:

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Look like fun?  Think about adding a signature slide to your Lindy repertoire!

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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A Focus on Dance in the Bay Area: Lindy in the East Bay

The Breakaway Opening Night

The Breakaway: Oakland’s Newest Dance Venue

Until now this blog has been focused on anything having to do with dance, and it will continue to do so.  However, it will also have a local focus on the San Francisco Bay Area where I live and what’s happening in my own community.

Swing Dance in Oakland

Today’s entry is about Swing Dancing in the East Bay.  Swing is a broad term that includes many types of dance including Rockabilly, Lindy Hop, West Coast, and Jitterbug.  Today I’m talking about Lindy Hop and East Coast Swing (also known as Jitterbug), which are danced in the same community.

Ever since Lindy became popular again a couple of decades ago, the scene has been mostly in San Francisco and it’s been difficult to gather much of a crowd for a regular dance in the East Bay.  San Franciscans are notoriously loathe to cross the bridge and East Bay dancers are afraid no one will be there if the SF crowd won’t come.  Hence, a self fulfilling prophecy fulfills itself once again.  That may be changing however as a year long newish venue is taking hold and a brand new promising one is getting started in Oakland.

The Terrace Room

The Terrace Room, an upscale restaurant with a breathtaking view of Lake Merritt, has a live swing band 2 or 3 and occasionally 4 Fridays a month from 7-10.  It’s within walking distance of BART and attracts a decent crowd of dancers, even from SF, most of the time.  There is no cover, but the dancers know to support the venue by ordering drinks or food.  The schedule is published at the beginning of the month at  http://www.theterraceroom.com/go/events-2/.

The Breakaway

 

The Breakaway, a labor of love put together by a group of young East Bay passionate swing dancers, just had it’s grand opening in a new venue in West Oakland, The Starline Social Club.  The Grand Opening sold out almost immediately and was a huge success. Unlike the Terrace Room, which is just a place to dance and socialize, the Breakaway is a place where students of all levels can sign up for on-going lessons and curious beginners can check out a drop in lesson before the dance.  Check out their schedule at

http://www.starlinesocialclub.com/new-events/2016/3/22/swing-dance-tuesday-the-breakaway

or check out their facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/breakawayswing/

My fingers are crossed that the opening success is a sign that there is a need for what is being offered there, on our side of the bay.

Sunday Swing

The long standing Sunday Swing at the Lake Merritt Dance Center is still going, but is down to twice a month and may not continue after one of the instructors, Chuck Dee, moves to Oregon, and the event’s originator, Belinda Ricklefs, retires. Meanwhile, you can find the schedule for Sunday Swing at http://www.sundayswing.net/instructors.php.  And for an interview with Belinda see my previous post http://www.stepsontoes.com/2013/12/how-most-dancers-age/.

Bay Area Lindy Legends

And speaking of Belinda, if any of you are local and interested in how Lindy Hop got started here in the Bay area some 20 years ago, Rebecca Shannon is hosting a panel discussion at City College on March 26 at 4:00.  She’ll be interviewing Belinda and me and a small group of dancers who started the Lindy Hop community back before anyone in the Bay Area had heard of the dance.  We’ve got stories to tell and we’re thrilled that folks want to hear them.  She’s calling it (her words, not mine) Bay Area Lindy Legends. There’s a dance afterward, so we won’t go on forever even though we could!  Don’t miss this chance to get those questions answered!

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

 

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Learning to Dance on Youtube

My friend Stu Sweetow, videographer extraordinaire, sent me the picture at the right with the excellent phrase, “Real men take dance lessons, because you can’t learn connection on youtube!”  This inspired me to once again take up my blog, which my many fans have no doubt noticed I have let slip for several months due to more pressing matters in my life.

The Question

The blog-worthy question is, of course, what is connection and why can’t you learn it on youtube and maybe also, if not connection, what can you learn on youtube?

 

Connection in partner dance is the skill of leading and following.  It is how the leader communicates to the follower what to do, without telling her in advance what the step will be.  It is how two people can move around the floor as if they are one without choreographing and practicing a routine ahead of time.

 

Connection is a right brain skill and you have to feel it to know what it is and if you are doing it right.  That’s why you can’t learn it on youtube.  Different dances have different kinds of connection, but the basic principles are the same. Once you have learned how to connect to a partner in one kind of dance, it’s a lot easier to learn how to do it in another.

 

What part of dance don’t you understand?

 

So is there anything you can learn on video?  Yes there is!  Once you’ve learned how to dance (connection) you can pick up new steps on youtube if you’re a visual learner and you work at it.  But if all you know are the steps, not the connection, you’ll be hard to dance with and dancing won’t be much fun for you or your partner.  You know something’s missing but you don’t know what it is.

 

Connection Vs. Steps

So here’s my advice if you are the kind of learner who has the discipline and learns well from videos.  Take private lessons FIRST.  Learn what your strengths and weaknesses are and learn connection.  Then find cool steps on video that you like and practice them.  If you fall in love with a step and somehow it isn’t working, take a private lesson and ask a teacher what you’re doing wrong.  There’s probably something tricky about the lead in that particular move.  Have fun!

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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In Honor of Frankie Manning

a workshop with the late Frankie Manning

Teaching with Frankie Manning–joy personified!

This is the week Frankie Manning would have turned 101 had he lived and I always like to leave a tribute for him every year.  I was privileged to have been friends with this wonderfully positive and highly charismatic man for the last fifteen years of his life.

 

Frankie was one of the people credited with creating the Lindy Hop, and due to his delightful personality was in many ways responsible for the resurrection of this joyful dance in present times.  After being pulled out of retirement in his 70’s, he began traveling the world teaching workshops and spreading the popularity of Lindy Hop world wide.  He was modest and unassuming, always grateful to his students and the burgeoning Lindy community for bringing back this dance that he loved and giving him the opportunity to spend the last years of his life spreading it’s joy.  “I’m happy to be here”, he would say at every workshop.  “But at my age, I’m happy to be anywhere.”  And right up until the end, he was.

 

I met Frankie on his 80th birthday at a big celebration in New York City.  Practically everyone who danced Lindy in the bay area was there.  About 5 out of 6 of us!  We were exposed for the first time to dancers from all over the world, and to exciting new (to us) styles of the dance.  We fell in love with what was known as Modern Savoy Style and brought it back home.  As our community grew, Savoy style was what was mostly danced here.

 

When Frankie came to the Bay Area for the first time shortly after the New York workshops, I got to teach with him for the first time. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.  It was one of the high points of my life and although it was the first of many, nothing beat the high of that first time.

 

He was a piece of living history, a joy to know, an honor to call friend, and I’ll always feel lucky to have crossed paths with him at the end of his life and the middle of mine.

 

I’ve included two clips to give you a glimpse into the joy he brought into dance and the charm that was always the hallmark of his teaching style.

 

Here he is dancing the Shim Sham Shimmy with his son Chaz Young at the Herrang Dance Camp in Sweden.  He was in his mid eighties believe it or not at the time!

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This clip gives you a window into Frankie’s style and sense of humor.  To Frankie every woman was beautiful, and he made every woman feel beautiful and special.

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Using Your Dance Skill for Free Cruises and Parties

ballroom dancers on a cruise

Crystal Cruises on the Cunard Line is one cruise that offers dance hosts to single travelers.

If you’re a man who enjoys the company of senior women, can dance, and likes to be of service to others, you’re in luck!   Older women vastly outnumber their male counterparts on the dance floor, and people who organize cruises and parties for seniors are on the lookout for dance partners for their guests.

 

Sometimes you can get paid for your services.  Sometimes you get a free cruise, or free admission to a party, or a vastly reduced ticket price to an expensive cruise.  In all cases you get to make a lot of women happy.

 

The downside is you probably will spend a lot of time dancing with unskilled dancers.  This is definitely a personality issue and is not a problem for everyone.

 

A lot of men, regardless of their own skill level, love to dance with women who don’t know the first thing about how to follow.  There is a lot to be said for the pleasure of lighting up a woman who rarely if ever gets to dance.  You get to be a hero.  She feels like a dancer and experiences tremendous joy at the simplest little turn.  Your skill at finding her skill level, finding steps she can follow easily and enjoy, without making her feel inept, is rewarded by her immense joy.

 

The other downside is that if you meet someone with whom you’d like to pursue a relationship, you’re out of luck.  Showing preference for one woman is always against the rules.

But if the perks appeal to you, and you can dance, go for it.  There will always be a need for you.  And if it really appeals to you, and you can’t dance, what better reason than this to learn?

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Dance Contest Played for Laughs Raises Consciousness Anyway

 

me and jose when we were young

Dancing with Jose in younger years

Jack and Jack Dancers

During the Peach State Country Western Dance Festival in Atlanta, there was a Jack and Jack competition in which men partnered with other men in texas two-step, waltz, west coast swing, and night club two step.  These guys were all excellent dancers and many of them were teachers.  They were also all straight and they camped it up, somewhat offensively, playing for laughs even  while dancing masterfully.  There was no Jill and Jill counterpart.

 

My friend Jose, who was my host, says they do this every year and we tried to avoid it by going Salsa dancing earlier but managed to arrive right in the middle of it anyway.

 

C/W dance teachers never die..

I noticed that they seemed to know each other well and were good friends.  They clearly enjoyed showing off their considerable skills together and they were having a lot of fun, but they couldn’t give themselves permission to just enjoy dancing together without making a joke of it.  When one of them made a particularly lewd dance move, the announcer to my astonishment said with a laugh “Dave Getty better not see that one!”

 

And neither does homophobia

Dakota Dave Getty was my first country western dance teacher at a now defunct club in Hayward called the West 40.  He was also the head honcho of the people who made the rules of C/W competition.  Because there was a gay couple who were so good they were likely to walk away with all of the awards, Dakota  changed the definition of a couple to “a man and a woman”.  He also would not let me dance lead in his classes even when there were extra women who could not be in the class because there weren’t enough men.  I haven’t heard anything about him in years, but I guess his homophobic reputation  is still known far and wide.  After the contest, during the dance, Jose was invited to dance by a man 3 times, and we noticed same sex couples on the floor dancing without raising a hint of hostility from the mostly heterosexual crowd.

 

“That never happened before,” said Jose later.  “Maybe some change was brought about by that contest after all.”  What do you think?  Coincidence?  Exposure over time to the sight of men dancing together even for laughs? Maybe the unmistakable friendship and real caring between the dance partners?  Or the changing times coming into play in spite of the homophobia of the contest?  Readers, weigh in!

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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And ANOTHER Use of Dance for the Public Safety

 

figure dancing in a traffic light

The Dancing Traffic Light in Action!

I think this might be my favorite example yet of using dance to save people from themselves.  In the spirit of using fun to get people to change negative behavior, (and what can be more fun than dancing?) the dancing traffic light was an idea to see if people would resist the temptation to jaywalk at a dangerous corner if it was more fun to wait for the light.

 

Not only was it a fun and clever idea, but it actually worked!  Some people chose to dance with the dancing traffic light and some just enjoyed watching it (and maybe the people dancing with it) but nearly everybody actually waited for the light to change before crossing the street.  What a great combination of creativity, joy, dance, fun, and public service!

 

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff
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My Favorite Dance Students, Part 2

This is a continuation of last week’s post, so if you missed it, read it here first.

Another reason some of my students fit my target market is an unusual learning style.  One of my specialties is finding out how people learn so that I can teach to their particular learning style.   Most people are some combination of visual, audial, or kinesthetic learners, but some people just don’t learn in any kind of normal way, so they know they need a teacher who can figure them out.

Often they already know how they learn and they tell me exactly what does and does not work for them.  It still takes a fair amount of creativity, even so, to figure out how to make dance fit the parameters of their learning style even when I know what it is.  For me,that’s the fun part.

But also there are people who don’t have a clue as to why it’s so hard for them to learn. The last student who fit this description was a hundred percent kinesthetic learner.  He got nothing from watching while doing and no kind of explanation, counting, or verbal reminders of any kind had any effect whatsoever.  I had to back lead the moves so that he could feel what his body should do and then repeat over and over until his muscle memory took over.  Even then, he never had any conscious understanding of what he was doing, or why.  He just knew what it felt like.  Fascinating!

A lot of my students self identify as hopeless dancers because at some point in their youth they attempted to dance with someone who said something devastating to them when they were feeling particularly vulnerable.  My friend and mentor Frankie Manning said that when he tried to copy his mother as a young child, she said “You’ll never be a dancer, because you’re too stiff!”  Frankie’s response was “I’ll show her!” and used that memory as fuel to become one of Harlem’s greatest dancers.  (Frankie’s mother, by the way, didn’t remember that she ever said that.)  None of my students had the “I’ll show her!” response.  Mine had the “I’ll NEVER give anyone a reason to say anything like that to me ever again because this is the LAST time I’m ever setting foot on a dance floor.”

We’ve all experienced responding to a trauma by creating a belief that in some way kept us smaller for the rest of our lives.  Until maybe at some point we decided to challenge it. Usually because something we want overshadows our fear of taking on that old ingrained belief.  Like a fiance who really wants a first dance at her wedding.  Or a guy who really really likes a girl who really really likes to dance.  Or a shy guy who’s figured out that  being a great lead is the world’s best babe magnet.  By the way, a friend of mine who admittedly learned to dance to get girls and then found he really liked it told me it’s a great way to get your foot in the door but you still have to work really hard to get them into bed.  So it does have it’s limitations.

I work primarily  with beginners, so I teach a lot of the same material  over and over again. I never get bored because I teach it differently to each student.  I do tend to tell the same jokes over and over but I never get bored with that either because I’m always just as funny.

I have so much respect for these people who are willing to be so vulnerable, to place so much trust in me to see them week after week doing the one thing that makes them feel the most inept.  What a gift they give me with that trust.  And what a reward for us both when they find out they CAN learn to dance and not only that, but have fun.

I believe that anyone really can learn to dance and find the joy that is our birthright.  Who do you know that is convinced they can’t learn to dance but might have a compelling reason to question that conviction?  Wherever they are, somewhere out there, there is a dance teacher for them!

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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My Favorite Students, Part 1

I’m not going to talk about specific students in this post, but rather the kind of people I most like to work with, and why.  In other words, as marketing people like to say, my target market.

I like to work with people who think they can’t learn to dance.  This isn’t everyone, of course.  I do have students who come to me without the baggage just because they heard I’m a good teacher and they want to learn to dance, but the majority have some kind of issue to get over.

Sometimes they are people who have always wanted to dance and have finally reached a point in their lives when they are willing to take on this huge challenge.  They’ve been attracted to, and terrified of, this enticing activity for as long as they can remember and here they are, giving themselves up to someone who does FOR A LIVING this thing at which they feel totally incompetent.  Could anyone possibly be more vulnerable?

They often begin by assuring me of how competent they are at whatever they are good at, least I mistake their ineptitude at dance for general stupidity.  If, as is remarkably often the case, what they are good at is technology, it gives me a perfect opportunity to put them at ease because how they feel about dance is how I feel about what comes so easily to them.  I still have phones that don’t do anything except make phone calls as you would know if you’ve ever tried to text me.

Dancing has always come easily to me but that doesn’t mean I can’t relate to my student’s experience.  I studied Jujitsu for eleven years and not only did I totally suck at it, but I still couldn’t fight my way out of a paper bag.  We’ve all got things we naturally do well and things that make us cross eyed.  I love seeing people take on the challenging stuff and truly feel honored that they trust me to guide them through it.

Because I specialize in teaching people who are dance phobic, the one thing a lot of my students have in common is a conviction that they are terrible dancers and will be difficult if not impossible to teach.  “I’ll bet I’m the worst student you’ve ever taught,” I hear from almost everyone except the worst students I’ve ever taught.

So why do so many people self identify as hopeless dancers?  Many of them are not only not hopeless, but are perfectly normal.  Sometimes people think they can’t dance simply because nobody ever taught them.

So when they tried, of course they failed miserably and were mortified.   They assumed the problem was not their lack of education but that something was just wrong with them.  They just can’t dance.

There is a popular myth about leading and following in dance.  The assumption is that it is natural for men to lead and women to follow and that they should just kinda know already how to do it without any instruction.  The truth, of course, is that not only is it a skill like any other, but it is not even gender specific. In fact most people are naturally inclined toward leading or following and you have about a 50 50 chance of falling into the category that society has assigned to your gender, not unlike the rest of life. You may remember a past post or two about that.

OK, so how about the people whose self image is on the money, the ones  who really DO have a tough time learning to dance?  Well, they fall into all kinds of categories.

Some of them have difficulty finding the beat, and I’ve devoted entire posts to that in the past.  But most of the people who have the most challenging time have a kind of physical dyslexia, and I encounter this phenomenon all the time.  It’s as if they understand how to follow the instruction, but by the time it gets to their feet, it gets twisted into something different.  They do get it eventually through perseverance, but it takes dedication and a lot of practice.  And a very patient teacher of course.

I once had a student who took a month of dedicated practice to learn the box step, something my average student can learn in about 10 minutes and a quick student can learn in about one minute.  Next week I’ll talk about some other reasons people might fall into the category of my target market.  Stay tuned!

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Using Dance to Make a Point

dancers from "Hand of Power"

dancers inspire people to rock the vote!

Dance can be a powerful motivator.  It’s energetic and engaging and keeps people’s attention.  I’ve talked about how much I enjoy the creative use of dance in advertising, but it’s also used to make people think, to inform, and to combat apathy.

 

One of my favorite examples is Rock the Vote. These guys make funny, engaging, creative videos to encourage responsibility and they almost always use dance.  Check out this example:

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Wasn’t that fun?  If you want to see more of them, look them up on youtube.  They make a point of letting individual groups of people know they count and that they can make a difference.  And dance is one of their favorite tools.

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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A New Take on Disability and Dance

Viktoria Modesta shows off a beautiful fake leg

Viktoria Modesta sporting a prosthesis as glamorous as she is.

I’ve written in the past about dance troupes like Axis that feature dancers in wheelchairs performing with able bodied dancers, blind and deaf dancers, and a hip hop crew composed entirely of physically challenged dancers.  This is a subject near and dear to my heart because of my background in working with people who live with physical disabilities.

 

You may have seen the video I’m featuring today because it’s gone viral.  Pop singer Viktoria Modesta is an amputee who in the past has made videos in which her prosthesis was hidden and she looked like a classic beauty with all of her limbs intact.  In “Prototype” she features two different artistically designed prosthesis and at the end of the video does a dance with one of them.  The first one looks elegant and exotic, a perfect fit for her fashonista style. Her movements are graceful and natural as the prosthesis lights up like a futuristic bionic body part.

 

The second one is a spike that comes to a point and it looks as if the dance is designed for it or it was designed for the choreography.  If you want to fast forward to the dance, it starts at 4:57, although she does dance here and there throughout the video.

 

This video sparked a ton of comments, many from people who dislike her music and therefore find the whole thing pointless, or a shameless use of a disability to get attention.  I confess I’m not a big fan of this type of music either, but I think the way she showcases her prosthesis is groundbreaking.

 

I would enjoy it a lot more if I liked the music, but that doesn’t change what she’s doing in this dance.  She could easily hide her leg and still dance.  We wouldn’t be able to tell.  So what is so new about this that makes it different from some I’ve the other artists I’ve written about in former posts?

 

She doesn’t just show the world that she can dance just as well as an able bodied artist in spite of her missing leg.  She creates a work of art out of the leg and showcases it.  It’s a thing of beauty in its own right.  One viewer commented, to the disgust of many others, that he almost wished he had a fake leg that lit up.  He voiced what many were thinking.  It’s that cool.

 

Born with this disability, she’s comfortable with it and it’s a big part of who she is.  I’m glad it’s sparking controversy because it means people are thinking and talking about it.  I give it a thumbs up!  Here you go:

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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